Medium Raw – A Bloody Valentine to the Word of Food and the People Who Cook
(HarperCollins, New York, 2010)
Ever since I first saw Anthony Bourdain on TV, skidding to a halt in his spiky-tipped boots in the intro to “No Reservations”, I’ve been meaning to read his books. Much has been said about them – particularly about his 2000 début Kitchen Confidential, described as shocking, wild, anarchic, and so forth.
Since those days Bourdain has changed from l’enfant terrible of the food industry into its Elder (but not entirely decorous) Statesman. Medium Raw is everything Kitchen Confidential was not. His writing style has segued into a poetic, stream of consciousness food-rap, with the raves and rants downplayed. But like the title suggests, it’s still raw, occasionally rude stuff, and reads like it’s straight from his mind to the printed page, with no stops for editing in between.
Bourdain’s style has evolved to the point that his writing sounds exactly like when he talks in his TV series – and vice versa – typically a flow of words, lyricism interspersed with intermittent crude asides:
“… a perfect bowl of Hanoi Pho is a balanced meeting of savoury, sweet, sour, spicy, salty, and even umami – a gentle commingling of textures as well: soft and giving, wet and slippery, slightly chewy, momentarily resistant but ultimately near-diaphanous, light and heavy, leafy and limp, crunchy and tender. There – and nearly not there at all. Were this already not enough to jerk a rusty steak knife across your grandma’s throat, empty her bank account, and head off to Hanoi, consider the colours…”
If you have to pick, read chapter 19, The Fish-on-Monday Thing. Apart from some advice which is too terrible not to be true, the opening lines give the clue of why Medium Raw is different and better than Kitchen Confidential: he describes his first memoir as a hurried, enraged, disgorging of sentences. Bourdain has matured, so has his writing style – he’s not so angry any more. But he still has definite issues with the industry, he is still painfully direct and he still does not tolerate poseurs. As far as I’m concerned: Vive l’enfant terrible!